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Although Paul and Cindy Heins of Heins Family Farms in Higginsville, Mo., saw the passion their son Chris had for the family farm while growing up, they encouraged him to step away to see what else was out there.
“We told him, ‘Only come back to the farm if you really want to,’” Cindy says. “We never wanted to pressure any of our children into coming back.”
While attending Concordia University, Nebraska (CUNE) in Seward, Neb., to obtain a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in finance, Chris says he never questioned if he’d return home, only when.
“I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do than be around cows,” says Chris, who returned to the farm full time after graduating from CUNE in 2008. “I love working outside and being around animals. Once I graduated, I knew exactly where I wanted to be.”
Chris’s decision to return to the farm after school allowed the family to finish construction on a new facility to meet the expanding needs of current and future generations. While most producers were cutting back during the industry downturn in 2009, the Heinses found an opportunity for growth.
“I think it’s every mother’s dream to work with her children,” Cindy says. “Without Chris, we wouldn’t have been able to expand and be where we are today, because we knew the farm was going to be in good hands moving forward. Having the opportunity to work with him every day is a blessing.”
Paul’s parents, Vernon and Aileen Heins, purchased the first farm in 1951 and started with two cows and a sow. The family continued with land purchases and constant expansion through the years. By the early 90s, the original farmstead had been renovated numerous times but had become outdated and inefficient with no room for expansion. By 1995, Paul and Cindy had bought 600 acres of surrounding farm land with intention to build a new home and dairy facility on a bare piece of dirt with a half-mile buffer to the closest neighbor.
“During our 10 years of planning for the new farmstead, we had several goals in mind — to be environmentally friendly, cow friendly and people friendly, while meeting the needs of current and future generations but not obligating the children to return,” Paul says. “Being good stewards of the environment is a core value. When we take good care of the cows, they take good care of us. When our team can work in a clean, efficient, people-friendly environment, everyone wins.”
Today, the family milks about 600 Holsteins in their new state-of-the-art double-10 parallel parlor. In addition, they’ve incorporated radio frequency ID tags in each cow’s ear as well as milk meters, rubber mats, fans, misters, curtains and a flush system to provide a clean, cow-friendly environment that gets the cows from the freestall to parlor to feed at the headlocks in about an hour. When building the new facility, Paul says they also thought a lot about cow comfort. To achieve this, they use sand bedding, foot baths and a flush system that cleans the barns eight times each day. Each flush tank releases 20,000 gallons of recirculated water into the 40-by-460-foot freestall barns, which each house 200 cows in groups of 100.
They also constructed a special needs barn that houses 100 pre-fresh, post-fresh, hospital and bedded pack cows. The Heinses are convinced that providing their herd with the proper nutrition and a clean, comfortable environment elevates many health problems.
“The many hours of planning, engineering, inspections and red tape at times seemed overwhelming,” Paul says. “But in the end, it helped us respect our neighbors and the environment with the completion of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Our comprehensive nutrient management plan encourages good stewardship of valuable crop nutrients.”
The facility was designed to double in size to 1,400 cows. If and when the family decides to expand, the engineering is complete to add cows in increments of 200.
Paul focuses on financial management and the farm’s 1,400 acres, which are used to grow corn, beans and rye for feed, while Cindy has remained an integral part of the dairy as bookkeeper and the herd’s record keeper. Chris has taken the lead serving as herd manager.
“I enjoy working with my parents,” Chris says. “They always have my back. When Dad started giving me more and more responsibility, I was a bit overwhelmed, but it’s been a great learning experience. He’s given me room to make mistakes and to grow, because he wants the next generation to succeed.”
In addition to his role on the farm, Chris leads group tours of the dairy to connect people back to agriculture. He’s also taken his passion off the farm through speaking engagements with Midwest Dairy Association and Missouri Farmers Care. These engagements give him the opportunity to visit with aspiring journalists and dieticians at numerous universities.
“There’s so much interest today from individuals who want to know where their food comes from,” Chris says. “Our tours are one way to help people make that connection. It gives them a chance to see the people behind the products.”
Word of mouth has brought 2,000 visitors to the farm in the past three years. Chris says the tours, which are free, are used to show the public firsthand how their cows are cared for.
During each visit, Chris receives an array of questions from “How old is an average cow?” to “Do you treat your cows with antibiotics?”, but he says that having the opportunity to educate consumers about the farm and dairy industry are vital parts of the job.
Earlier this year, the Heinses welcomed Dairy Farmers of America’s 2012 Kansas City, Mo., interns, as well as 70 international visitors from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Costa Rica.
“Everything here is so well managed, it’s very different from my country,” says Juan Carlos from Venezuela. “It’s all so clean and organized. On farms back home, things are more spread out. This is very centralized and their technology is very impressive.”
For Chris, it’s the positive interaction with visitors that drives him to open the farm for tours.
“We always want to make ourselves open to the community and involve those interested in what we do as much as we can,” he says. “As the next generation to take over this farm, I want to make sure I’m working as hard as I can to connect consumers back to agriculture.”